Bruce Wood, of the American Insurance Association, led off the second Opt-Out session by reminding participants that the 1972 National Commission “considered and rejected employer or employee choice of benefit plans.” So, right away we knew where Mr. Wood was heading. He boarded the Trey Gillespie train and left the station smartly. His conclusions:
- Opt-Out raises fundamental issues of public policy that policymakers have failed to consider;
- Opt-Out lacks an organizing principle that reflects acceptable social policy; and,
- Opt-Out is flawed and should not be enacted.
You know where Mr. Wood stands.
The second presenter was Elizabeth Bailey, VP of Workers’ Compensation & Safety for Waffle House, Inc. Waffle House, headquartered in Georgia, is in a number of states, Texas being one of them. The company has been a Texas Non-Subscriber (it’s Opted-Out) since 2002, and, according to Ms. Bailey, has enjoyed spectacular results ever since. Such as:
- Within one year, claims cost per restaurant dropped 57%;
- Indemnity claims went from 15.03% of total claims to 3.23%;and,
- Indemnity costs declined 99%
Ms. Bailey described how Waffle House has increased its safety and health efforts while providing equivalent benefits as those required by the workers’ compensation statute. The company’s economic results are certainly stellar, but at what cost to employees? We were left wondering. However, as David Deitz pointed out in the question period, Ms. Bailey was the only Opt-out presenter who “presented” any data.
The third presenter, Alan Pierce, is a Massachusetts plaintiffs attorney, but that doesn’t begin to describe his standing in the legal community. He is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for injured workers and is the past chair of the Workers’ Compensation Section of the American Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association. As expected, he offered an eloquent precis suggesting that workers’ compensation is not a benefit, but rather an employee right. He, too, cited the 1972 National Commission pointing out that most of its recommendations have never been adopted. Mr. Pierce is always interesting.
The last presented was Oklahoma Insurance Department Chief of Staff James Mills. I was somewhat surprised to hear him defend the Oklahoma Opt-Out statute. Essentially, Attorney Mills said that he was open to any program or law that might have the chance of benefiting both employers and employees and likened the statute, which had 57 legislative authors, to some other ideas that needed time to grow and prosper. Who knows? Maybe that’s what will happen to Opt-Out.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.